Tricky customer

Hi all,

I’m new on here. Read through some of the threads and have to say I’m very impressed by the advice and knowledge which is being shared.

So, perhaps some of you might be able help me put my mind at ease.

I have a small company based in Leamington Spa. A couple of years ago we installed a gravel drive on an area which was previously a slabbed shed base at the top of a very short, steep drive. The purpose of the gravel area was to create a level section of the drive.

We dug out to 200mm, laid a geotextile membrane, 150mm of MOT1 and then 50-60mm of Black basalt chippings. All of this spec is clearly stipulated within the quote.

approx 6 months later we were called back as the membrane had made its way to the surface. There is heavy clay underneath so water wasn’t soaking away. We dug out a little further and put back more stone and reinstated the membrane and gravel.

Now, the problem has occurred again. I Suggested putting in a soakaway cell - at clients cost. He didn’t like the sound of that all and is now threatening court.

i pride myself on how well I get on with clients and also the standard of our workmanship. So, this is a first for me. 

As I mentioned, I’m confident that we’ve delivered the quoted spec and have offered a solution - albeit an extra. But, this client has told me that he “intends to destroy my company”.

So, I’m wondering what step to take next. I’d like to see it out, but my wife (also part of the company) is worried that if it goes to court, we can’t guarantee the outcome. And we can’t afford the risk if I’m honest. 

Any advice or previous experience would be gladly received. Happy to provide more info if it helps.

Thanks in Advance


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  • PRO

    Come what may the water will flow out of the gravel over the pavers or push them up.

    I really doubt that installing a permable base with baffles would have prevented this.…
  • Hi Andy,

    I’m a career changer, so not in any way able to approach your problem from a technical point of view, but previously I had very intense relationships with my customers, who were often somewhat emotionally wound up at the time - for 25 years I was an award winning, bespoke wedding dress designer.

    Although like you, I always did so much more than my clients were paying for, bending over backwards etc. etc. to ensure that I exceeded their expectations, if I had a problem, it was usually with a client to whom I had given my all and more!

    My attitude was to examine in a totally honest way - no pulling the wool over my own eyes - the interaction between myself and the customer, the way that I’d approached the job and the solutions that I’d provided to the issues that they highlighted. If you feel that you’ve acted 100% professionally, then STICK TO YOUR GUNS. Don’t be intimidated or cowed by threats of a ruined reputation. One person really doesn’t have the power to do that you know. 

    I’ve faced situations like yours with customers that have simply refused to be satisfied. You’ve been back once, and it sounds me (I’ve read up now about heave) that a resolution might require someone with engineering expertise to investigate the cause of this issue or to advise on a method of controlled run-off for the water, which comes from where by the way?Presumably the tree element/removal had no part to play in all this. That’s a cost that the client would have and to bear at the outset if you’d identified the problem then, so as such it isn’t an extra.  

    If it were me, I’d make the updated position clear, including any further time that you’re prepared to spend on this, other expertise required and extra costs to be incurred. If your customer still isn’t compliant, walk away saying “Do your worst Mr.....”. 

    Remember, you only have to have done everything that’s ‘reasonable’. If you want further advice for free, call Trading Standards. That organisation helped clarify many issues for me over the years and is not just there for the consumer. You can even ask for letter templates and wording to suit your particular situation. 

    Good Luck!

    • PRO

      A really pragmatic response, from Jo.

      Set out your final position and get it across and 'walk away'.

      If he choses the Small Claims Court (which is unlikley) the proceedings are balanced and it quickly becomes obvious who has been reasonable and what attempts have been made to resolve the matter.

      All I can say is make sure you document everything you do/say from now on (ideally in writing/email) so you can produce it if needed.Get your ducks in a row regarding the historcial aspect as well.

      In future make sure your T&Cs make provision for 'unknowns' and that your Contracts are explicit in relation to the tasks, specifications, work mmethods and any assumptions made.

      Here's an extract from our T&Cs

      "The Client warrants that the site is free from springs, seeping water, flooding, rock, hardcore, tree stumps not specified to be removed, mine workings, covered wells or other cavities, running sand, service pipes and cables, sewage or land drains, foundations of former buildings or other hazards or obstructions which are not reasonably apparent upon visual inspection of the surface of the site or made known in writing by the Client to the Contractor prior to the date upon which the Contractor submits the quotation overleaf."

      Clearly elements of the above would be excluded if our works were to explicity address flooding etc. It's as much about setting out what's to be done as it is to exclude what you are not going to do....

      Again, Good Luck



  • PRO

    Hi Andy,

    Always disappointing when a client behaves in such a way and leaves a bad taste in your mouth etc, especially when you strive to do all you can and take pride in your work.  My advice would be to run a mile, if he's threatened you and your company that is too far.  If you try and rectify the problem you will just be inviting more criticism , I have found that these people threaten with solicitors and court hearings etc etc, say they will destroy your business or whatever.  The fact Is there is nothing they can do in reality, you quoted the original job and completed it to a high standard, let them go off and do whatever it is they are threatening, they will likely get nowhere and move on to bullying another trades person of which im sure they've been through lots! 


  • PRO

    All I can say is good luck!


    There are many of us who would have not been as professional, that's for sure!

  • I got accused of theft of 10 18inch post off cuts that I was meant to have used to repair a raised bed, she kept sending me pictures of the posts I'd 'stolen' in situ where she'd asked me to put them, all the while saying "why haven't you done the work, where are my posts!" She threatened my home and business (in writing) and reported me to the neighborhood watch, and stated I'd never work in her parish again. 

    It's now 7 months on, and I still work in several large gardens, for the village hall, and have taken 2 new customers, again with large gardens, all my customers in that village are members of the neighborhood watch...

    It was a stressful 3 weeks, and I still haven't been paid (only a day + labour).

    Good customer service and rapport, like you seem to offer, outweighs well off hot heads! 

    No one wants to go to court though..


  • PRO

    The only thing that comes to mind is that if the membrane runs over the concrete at the top, it would direct the water under it and it has to get out somewhere.

    So if you throw the gravel back at the intersection between the concrete and clay, then dig the top edge of the membrane in to allow the water to flow off the concrete onto the top of the membrane, it may help resolve the issue.

    But it sounds like you are past going back and altering things. So dig your heels in and stand your ground, if you find the job you quoted for.


    • PRO

      the more you engage with this customer and the more you continue to do for free the more you are accepting liability in the eye s of the law. You need to refer back to the contract you made with the customer. The communicatiojn you had pre winning the job. The quotation you provided. What does it say you will do, what did he ask you to do. Did you do what you said you would do. If so and he paid then as far as I am aware you fulfilled your contract and the matter is closed. Some people are just unreasonable and unhappy - always!

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